September 21, 2017
The Great British Plea to Booksellers and Publishers
by Peter Clark
Last week, the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland (a professional organization comparable the American Booksellers Association) held their annual conference in Birmingham. Rosamund de la Hey, owner of Scotland’s Main Street Trading Company and current BA president, used the opportunity of her opening remarks to make a few calls for change in the industry. While some of her ideas are specific to the UK, she has others that apply more broadly.
For booksellers, de la Hey makes the claim that bookstores are a “leisure destination.” While Fodor’s, Ann Patchett, and countless others have suggested this before, de la Hey wants bookstores to take it a step further:
“Book lovers don’t need to come to bookshops to buy books. We have great customer service, but so do our online competitors — albeit within a fairly dry definition. And yes, there are people who consciously want to support the high street. But most of our customers come into our bookshops and buy our books for one reason only; they enjoy the experience…
“So, here is a thought… Maybe at this conference next year we might hear from a speaker from the leisure or tourist industry telling us about some transferable insights.”
Her ideas for publishers are a bit more specific. She wants audiobooks to make an indie comeback in the form of boxed CD sets. While it’s true that audiobooks are enjoying a several-years-long sales expansion, those sales have been predominantly in downloadable and subscription formats, while CD sales have declined somewhat. Meantime, indie booksellers have begun partnering with Libro.fm to provide downloadable audio to their customers.
But for de la Hey, the CD boxed set offers publishers a marketing benefit worth considering:
“My plea would be to publishers not to forget CDs and to view them on the same profit and loss as downloads, perhaps even sharing some of the set up costs with marketing. More than one publisher has indicated to me that working this way supports the economics of CDs — it’s a growing market and we booksellers would very much like to re-join the party.”
De la Hey ended with a few jabs at Amazon, and to the economic contributions of indie booksellers, as well as the “cultural contribution they make to their communities.” She noted the BA had called on Parliament “to support bookshops and a reading nation.”
Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.